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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is ‘Border’ GOP Dog-Whistle for Latino-Bashing?

As I mentioned yesterday, “Border” was the most frequently-uttered word in the last Republican presidential debate in Arizona. CNN.com’s LZ Granderson explores some of the implications of the term in his post, “Does ‘secure the border’ mean ‘keep America white’?“:

Now there will be plenty of other buzz words and euphemisms that will be tossed around during the debate, but since it is being held in Arizona, chances are the most popular phrase will be “secure the border.”
…The candidates will argue that it’s a matter of national security. That it isn’t just the friendly illegal immigrants looking for work we must worry about, but terrorists, drug lords and other criminals who seek to make their way through our porous border. They will say if they were president they would build walls, add troops, even commission a Death Star to keep this country safe.
Newt Gingrich has promised to build a double fence along the entire southern border, adding, “”The United States must control its border. It is a national security imperative,”
Ron Paul said “If elected president, I would move to quickly end foreign nation building efforts and use many of the resources we waste playing world’s policemen to control our southern border.”
They all will receive applause, and it will all sound great … until you realize that “secure the border” is slang for “keep the Mexicans out.”

If that sounds a little overstated, consider the border with Canada, as Granderson explains:

…The Canadian border is largely ignored in this dialogue despite being more than twice the size of the Mexican border and less than 1% secure, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office. Even if we were to disregard the 1,538 miles between Alaska and Canada, the 3,987 mile border connecting the lower 48 to our neighbors up north is still much larger than the 1,933-mile stretch that connects us to Mexico.

And yet the attention we give the northern border is miniscule at best when compared to the resources we allocate to the south. There are definitely reasons for serious concern about safety along the Mexican border, but according to our own intelligence, Mexico should hardly be our only concern.
You would think presidential hopefuls genuinely concerned about our safety would remember that just four years ago, Michael Chertoff, President Bush’s Homeland Security secretary, said he was more afraid of terrorists coming into the country from Canada than Mexico and that his department arrested more people connected to al Qaeda and Hezbollah trying to come in from up north than down south.

Further, adds Granderson:

…reports show that from 2007 to 2009, the amount of marijuana seized at the Canadian border jumped 22% and that Homeland Security has seen a sharp increase in the trafficking of more dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy? Yes, there are drug tunnels along the southern border, but the Drug Enforcement Administration also found a 360-foot drug tunnel from a hut in Canada to a house in the state of Washington as well.
We know an estimated 350,000 people trying to come in through Mexico in 2011 were stopped. We also know that number is down from the 447,731 arrests made in 2010 and that is significantly less than the 1,643,679 people stopped in 2000.
What we don’t know is how many people are illegally trying to get in from Canada, because less than 1% of the world’s largest border is secure. Conversely, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Mexican border is as secure as it has ever been, adding, “It is clear from every measure we currently have that this approach is working.” Still, judging from the tone of the immigration talk so far in this campaign, no one debating in Arizona on Wednesday really seems to care about either point.

To be fair, not everyone who supports the big fence on our southern border is motivated by racism. Some Americans who support it are sincerely concerned about the employment and wage effects of allowing too many migrant workers in the U.S., regardless of their race.
But it’s clear Republican politicians are playing a two-faced game of facilitating the entry of migrant workers to drive down wages, while making lots of noise about how we need to tighten our borders, ostensibly because of concerns about jobs and ‘national security.’ But with Republican leaders, the phrase “border security” is more about political manipulation. The big fence is certainly not all about ‘national security,’ as Granderson makes clear. It’s also about racism and keeping the Latino vote down.
As Granderson concludes:

You know, this whole immigration discussion would be a lot more productive if the people leading it would be more honest and stop pretending as if it’s only about national security. It’s a part, but the larger truth is that nonwhite people will be the majority in this country by 2040 and this browning of America scares the hell out of a lot of people, particularly some white people. The thinking goes that if the country can deport the Mexicans who are illegally here and stop new ones from coming in, maybe that trend will slow down or even reverse.

As for our northern border, if health care reform is eviscerated by the Supreme Court this spring, I wouldn’t be shocked if Canadians started talking about building a big fence — to keep American health consumers out.

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